Glue Ear: Resolving the Sticky Problem

Glue ear, or otitis media with effusion, tied to childhood hearing loss but treated with nasal balloon in procedure called autoinflation

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For parents and children alike, hearing problems can be troubling. However, a simple, nonsurgical procedure could help treat one common ear condition.

A new study found that treatment using a nasal balloon helped reduce the presence of an ear condition called otitis media with effusion (OME), or "glue ear."

"Unfortunately, all available medical treatments for otitis media with effusion such as antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants and intranasal steroids are ineffective and have unwanted effects, and therefore cannot be recommended," explained the authors of this new study, led by Ian Williamson, MD, of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom (UK).

In glue ear, fluid builds up in the middle ear, often causing hearing loss in one or both ears. The condition is common. There were 2.2 million diagnoses of OME in the US in 2004, according to a press release.

In an editorial about this study, Chris Del Mar, MD, and Tammy Hoffmann, PhD, of Bond University in Queensland, Australia, explained that troubles with hearing at a young age can interfere with language acquisition, behavior and education.

Dr. Williamson and team wanted to see if a simple treatment called autoinflation might help. In autoinflation, the child blows air through the nose to inflate a nasal balloon with each nostril. The goal of the procedure is to reduce pressure in the middle ear and promote drainage of fluid.

These researchers looked at 320 children between the ages of 4 and 11 who were gathered from 43 family practices in the UK. The children all had recent histories of ear symptoms and were diagnosed with OME in one or both ears.

Half of the children received autoinflation three times a day for one to three months plus standard care. The other half only received standard care for the issue.

After one month, 47.3 percent of the children receiving autoinflation had normal middle-ear pressure, compared to only 35.6 percent of the standard care group. After three months, 49.6 percent of the autoinflation group had normal ear pressure, compared to only 38.3 percent of the standard care group.

The autoinflation group also reported greater improvements in quality of life related to their ear health. A slightly higher number of the autoinflation group — 15 percent, versus 10 percent in the standard care group — reported side effects like colds and respiratory infections.

"At last, there is something effective to offer children with glue ear other than surgery," wrote Drs. Del Mar and Hoffman, who stressed the importance of making nondrug treatments like autoinflation available to doctors.

Further research is needed to explore autoinflation for the treatment of glue ear, particularly in younger children who might not be able to use the nasal balloon effectively, Dr. Williamson and team noted.

The study and editorial were published online July 27 in the journal CMAJ. The National Institute for Health Research funded this study. Dr. Williamson and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Drs. Del Mar and Hoffmann had financial ties to pharmaceutical companies developing products related to otitis media.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 27, 2015
Last Updated:
July 31, 2015